Speed cameras are intended to slow drivers down and make Britain’s roads safer – but do they work? There is mounting evidence to suggest that the little yellow boxes are in fact creating dangerous braking black spots. The number of motorists who suddenly slam on their brakes when they approach a fixed-speed camera in order to slow down and avoid a fine is about six times higher than the average, according to a study by Wunelli, a driver data firm. In the worst of the braking black spots, there are 11 times more hard-braking incidents than the norm. Wunelli defines a ‘hard-braking event’ as a change in speed of more than 6.5 mph in a second. And if that sounds harmless, it’s enough to propel a bag sitting on the passenger seat into the footwell. Hard braking is also dangerous because the driver behind could fail to react quickly enough and smash into the back of you.
The most dangerous speed camera site in the UK, according to the study, is on the M4 eastbound near Boston Manorin west London, where there were 57 incidents of hard braking within 50 metres of the camera, compared to just five within 50 and 100 metres. That’s an 11-fold increase. Rochdale Road in Middleton, Greater Manchester is another braking black spot, with 43 motorists slamming on the brakes close to the camera, compared to four further away, again an 11-fold increase. The data also identifies fixed camera sites on Leighton Buzzard Road, north of Hemel Hempstead, the B5206 out of Shevington, Iver Lane in Uxbridge and Garstang Road in Preston as particularly dangerous.
Paul Stacy, founding director of Wunelli, is in little doubt about the implications of the report. He says: “These findings question whether speed cameras are serving their purpose as a road safety tool or whether they are instead encouraging poor driving behaviour.” There are more accidents per mile on residential roads where the speed limit is less than 40mph than on roads with higher speed limits, according to the study. It also identifies drivers of 4WD gold estate cars as typically the safest on the road, as determined by fewest speeding, braking and claims events.
It’s perhaps no surprise that drivers brake hard when they approach a speed camera when you consider the penalties for breaking the speed limit. Anyone who is caught speeding is automatically issued with a fixed penalty notice. It will be sent through the post to the registered keeper of the vehicle. The minimum penalty for speeding is a fine of £100 and three penalty points on your licence. If the speeding offence is more serious, you could be prosecuted and ordered to pay a fine of up to £2,500. Motorists who accrue 12 or more penalty points within three years could be disqualified from driving. But if you have passed your test within the last two years, your licence will be withdrawn if you build up six or more penalty points. There’s really only one sensible solution: stick to the speed limit. It will not only save you money, it could also save your life.